20 years ago, the plane was an expensive means of transportation, but now it is too popular. In addition to the captains, first officers and flight attendants that many passengers are familiar with, the safety of flights also has a significant contribution from many parts. Men make up the majority in the aviation industry, but the sisters are no less competitive. Thanh Nien chose to approach Vietnamese women in aviation so that readers can imagine the contribution of “half of the world” in this very specific transport industry.
Entering the Air Traffic Control Center of the Ho Chi Minh City Long-distance Control Center is as tough as boarding an airplane. Present identification from the gate, security check, through the screening gate… It’s a large space about 500 m2located on the 2nd floor of the Southern Flight Management Company building on Tran Quoc Hoan Street (Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City).
Here, 30 air traffic controllers, including 11 women, concentrated on monitoring the radar screen, talking continuously with the pilot in English and the co-pilot sitting next to him.
Each person always has 1 green pen and 1 red pen on hand to record on the air show tape, in case of loss of radar waves (which is very rare), switch to flight control according to the classical method.
CLIP: Meet the ‘hidden’ people who guide the plane – The profession is not allowed to make mistakes
Ms. Ngo Thi Hoa, head of the Air Traffic Control Center of Ho Chi Minh City, said that this job requires good memory, high pressure ability, quick reflexes, good health, eyesight, hearing and English pronunciation at level 4 according to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards.
In 1994, flying was still a luxury for this woman of Quang Nam origin. There is no concept of aviation, but once passing the aviation school, seeing the enrollment board, Ms. Hoa applied and has been attached to this day.
“From 1995 – 1998, I studied at the Vietnam Aviation School. In March 1999, I officially joined the company. At first, I had to learn theory and practice in a hypothetical air traffic control room, then practice in a synergistic position (contact service facilities around – PV) with the guidance of the crew leader, deputy crew. 2 months later, I had the opportunity to directly exchange my first 24 years of experience, up to now.
She said that the air traffic controller is the job of operating the aircraft in the area of responsibility and co-ordinates the transfer of control of the aircraft. This profession must be familiar with the regulations of ICAO and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam. Accordingly, each aircraft taking off or landing must be at least 2 minutes apart. Aircraft en route at the same altitude are separated by a minimum of 10 miles (approximately 16 km) and a minimum of 1,000 feet (approximately 300 m) from aircraft on different floors.
The flight information area of Ho Chi Minh City stretches about 1 million km2, divided into 6 subdivisions. Controllers must work closely with each other. Controllers mainly communicate with pilots in the take-off and landing zones, changing altitude by voice. With parallel routes outside the South China Sea, the two sides communicate using CPDLC data (data communication).
If an air traffic controller is assigned to monitor flight by division, the crew leader must cover all 6 subdivisions and assign shifts to members based on qualifications and experience. In bad weather, the crew leader is also the air traffic controller to cancel flights that are about to take off from local airports to Tan Son Nhat. Because of the pressure and investment in the job because of having to take the annual health and capacity test, … those who guide the plane also have a high salary, commensurate with the requirements.
Chief of Staff Ngo Thi Hoa smiled and confided: “Everybody on a plane knows only the pilot, the flight attendant or the check-in staff. As for the air traffic controller, people don’t know it. This profession can be likened to a hidden person. When talking to friends, I also explained that the controller is the job of leading the aircraft, guiding the aircraft to the right flight path, to the right altitude, and to take-off/landing”.
Each shift of an air traffic controller lasts 8 hours and for every 2 hours, he is entitled to a break of 30 minutes during the day and 45 minutes at night. When entering the shift, air traffic controllers are not allowed to bring their phones, not to work separately to keep their spirits sober and highly concentrated.
Air traffic control chief Ngo Thi Hoa with 24 years in the profession said that she clearly saw the change in aircraft density. The peak in terms of flight density is in 2019. Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, flight density has decreased but is currently increasing close to the 2019 threshold.
She shared, air traffic controllers face a lot of pressure, which is when the density of aircraft is high, bad weather, military activities and night work.
Ho Chi Minh City is in the rainy season, every afternoon the working atmosphere in the Air Traffic Center also becomes tense because the “hidden people” behind the flights have to actively lead the aircraft to avoid bad weather, fly around waiting for landing or transfer to another airport to refuel.
“At Tan Son Nhat, from April to October the weather was very bad, so almost every afternoon there was a situation where planes had to wait, at least 30 planes, at the highest time waiting for 120 planes. We have to cancel flights that are about to take off from the local airport, giving priority to those flying in the sky,” she said.
Most recently, Ms. Hoa received a request for assistance from a Bamboo Airways plane taking off from Can Tho to Da Nang to land at Tan Son Nhat. The pilot said, 30 minutes after takeoff, the engine had a loud noise. The air traffic control captain issued an order for the aircraft to return to Tan Son Nhat and continuously updated, supported, prioritized landing and cooperated with the approach agency so that the aircraft could land as soon as possible. Finally, the flight landed at Tan Son Nhat safely.
In addition to the times when the plane had a damaged engine or other equipment but still managed to fly, the incident she remembers most was when she helped support a Brunei plane carrying about 200 passengers with broken navigation equipment more than a decade ago. . She said: “At that time, the aircraft could not know the way to go, nor could it receive any radio. The aircraft did not know which direction it was, so I had to point it out little by little with instructions to turn right and turn. left, until you see the right turn, then stop turning and continue moving.. To land, I breathed a sigh of relief.”
Nguyen Thi Quynh Nga (23 years in the profession) most remembers handling a power failure at Tan Son Nhat Air Traffic Control Tower in 2014. This incident led to the loss of flight control rights. for more than an hour in the flight information area, the radar system, the communications are not working. At that point, all air traffic controllers must gather to solve using the classic method. “At that time we had to apply high separation, listen to the pilot’s report to see how high the plane is, create a safe flight divider first, have a high divider gradually apply the non-radar approach. In addition, we also cooperate with other airports to temporarily not allow aircraft scheduled to return to Tan Son Nhat to take off to handle aircraft in the airspace of Tan Son Nhat first.” , Ms. Nga recalls.
Nguyen Thi Quynh Nga with 23 years in the air traffic control profession
According to Ms. Nga, an air traffic controller is a job that requires teamwork. In any situation there is always coordination. It’s stressful, but for Ms. Nga, the most interesting thing about air traffic control is talking directly with the pilot. “This is a profession that cannot be mistaken. Air traffic controllers are likened to traffic police on “nine layers of clouds”, guiding planes in the sky. When I first joined the profession, there were only me and an older sister in my shift. Now, out of nearly 60 air traffic controllers, the number of women in the profession accounts for more than one-third. I find this is a special profession that requires assertiveness, confidence and women can also do it, expressed very proudly.
In addition to the Air Traffic Control Center, the approach department also works at Tan Son Nhat Air Traffic Control Tower located in the airport. The tower has a height of 68 m above the ground, the top of the tower is arranged with 2 air traffic control cabins with high-strength steel structure and fitted with standard multi-layer specialized glass panels to ensure optimal visual observation for air traffic controllers. The radio is also a unique architectural symbol in the eyes of tourists going to/from Tan Son Nhat airport and people.
Here, 4 female air traffic controllers keep their eyes on the screen, talk continuously with the pilot through the microphone on the walkie-talkie, and constantly record non-stop tapes. “The air traffic control tower in the airport must always be located in a position that can see the whole airport. Sometimes pilots and air traffic controllers are Vietnamese but must speak English to unify all understanding. share the same meaning, whether when communicating with Vietnamese or foreigners,” one person explained.
In the future, Long Thanh Air Traffic Control Tower, also invested by Vietnam Flight Management Corporation as an investor, is expected to have a height of 123 m.
Spending their youth as a traffic policeman in the sky, team leader Ngo Thi Hoa and Ms. Quynh Nga also had special moments when they used to lead the plane of the heads of state. However, it is only when they are on duty that air traffic controllers receive such a secret plan and are required to monitor more closely than conventional aircraft.
With Air Force 1 of the former US President, Ms. Hoa said, there will usually be 2 planes arriving and the air traffic controller does not know which one will carry the President. In 2016, one day before the special plane arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport, the special forces went directly to the Air Traffic Control Center to check the machinery. Then, when the flight arrived, they quietly sat next to the controller to monitor the working process, did not interfere, did not say a word.
Every year, air traffic controllers must re-examine their qualifications as required by the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, obtain health certificates, and specialized English in order to maintain their license. Therefore, ensuring health, eating and exercising are also focused on by female “aircraft traffic police”.
After each stressful shift, Ms. Hoa and her colleagues go to the room to rest, drink tea to relax or practice sports on the spot with table tennis. This is also the time when the air traffic controller’s facial muscles are relaxed after 2 hours of concentration.
Outside of work, Ms. Hoa also plays volleyball to maintain her fitness. Perhaps that is why the common point of female air traffic controllers is a healthy, dynamic body, always full of energy despite high work pressure.
Choosing the profession of an air traffic controller means not having a full Tet at home, the pink balloons in the profession often celebrate Tet with their colleagues at the company because this is the time when the density of aircraft is high.